After an enforced winter break due to the postponements which have decimated the festive fixtures, United welcomed Sunderland on boxing day intent on sending out a message to their title rivals. With United sitting pretty at the top on Christmas day with games in hand, and Chelsea going head to head with Arsenal on Monday, victory over Sunderland would leave United in a very commanding position to regain the title at the half way stage. The omens were good, with United having won their last 5 boxing day fixtures, and Sunderland fielding a team ravaged by injury, leaving the United crowd expectant of a late Christmas treat. They were not to be disappointed.
A fired up United side started the game with real purpose, as the first twenty minutes resembled an attack v defence training session, with wave after wave of United attacks bearing down upon the Sunderland goal. It didn’t take United long to break the deadlock, as a fluid move culminated in a delightful clipped cross from Rooney which was gratefully met by Berbatov to nod home his 13th of the season. The Bulgarian nearly doubled his tally a few minutes later, only for his thundering shot to strike the base of the post with Gordon a helpless bystander. Another flurry of chances followed, with Rooney’s Cantona esq chip narrowly missing the far post, and Anderson’s strike clattering the cross bar, as United’s quartet of Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney and Anderson wrecked havoc amongst the Sunderland defence. Despite their dominance however, United could not find the crucial second goal, and were somewhat mystified to go in at half time the solitary goal to the good.
After a footballing feast in the first half, United somewhat ran out of gas in the second allowing the midfield to dictate the game and keep Sunderland at arms length. 1-0 is always a dangerous scoreline in the premier league, so there was an element of relief on the hour, as Berbatov finished the fleeting Sunderland resistance, after his powerful shot beat Gordon, albeit via a huge deflection from Anton Ferdinand. With the busy festive period looming, Ferguson gave players such as Anderson and Giggs well earned rests, with a difficult trip to St Andrews on Tuesday night on the agenda. Ultimately, the full time scoreline failed to do justice to the United performance which had been as good as any all season, with notable mentions to Anderson and Rooney, who have put their early season troubles behind them and really started to shine.
History tells us that the months between January and May are when United produce their best form, and as United sit 6 points ahead of Chelsea, and 2 ahead of City with 2 games in hand, we cant help but feel optimistic that we will march on to regain our title. However, this season has been as unpredictable as any, and the festive period is an unforgiving one with the games coming thick and fast, therefore it is crucial to keep up the good momentum we have against Birmingham. Given the close proximity of the teams at the top, it is likely that whichever team can put together a winning run in the coming weeks will be favourites to lift the title in May, and with United’s depth of squad and excellent current form, we have as good a chance as any to really pull away from the pack in the coming weeks. It’s been a Merry Christmas for the reds, let’s hope they will also have a happy new year.